Professor Promotes Good Writing With Class, Philanthropy and Scholarship

Image of retired UC Davis English professor Peter Hays
Peter Hays

Peter Hays, English professor emeritus, retired nearly 15 years ago, but the Hemingway scholar is anything but retiring. During the last few years he has written several books and many articles, and each fall teaches a freshman seminar on Ernest Hemingway’s short stories.

“The actual subject of the seminar is reading and writing,” Hays said. “So often students don’t really read, they skim, and they can’t do that with Hemingway. They need to read beyond the surface. Whether they remember anything about Hemingway is inconsequential — it’s all about reading and writing.”

To further encourage good writing, the Peter Hays Prize was established by his wife, Myrna, as a surprise for this 80th birthday last year. The award is for the best expository essay from a student in a first-year seminar regardless of subject or the student’s major. The first award will be made in June.

“It’s an incentive for students to focus on their writing and a positive reinforcement for good writing,” he said.

Although he has studied it for 50 years, English is Hays’ second language and he jokes that he may have overcompensated. His family fled Germany during the rise of Nazism shortly after his birth in 1938. They settled in Buffalo, New York, but spoke German at home. He studied at the University of Rochester and New York University and earned his doctorate from Ohio State University. He started at the UC Davis College of Letters and Science Department of English in 1966.

Over the years he taught a wide range of classes and published scholarly articles on Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Melville and others.

Sun Also Rise book cover imageBut Hemingway is the core of his work and he is considered the world’s expert on The Sun Also Rises. Among his books since retirement are Teaching Hemingway's ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ Fifty Years of Hemingway Criticism, and The Critical Reception of Hemingway's ‘The Sun Also Rises’.

Book chapters and articles recently or soon to be published include "Wharton and Hemingway: Both Modernists,” "Commodification in Hemingway’s Early Fiction," “Steinbeck’s Plays: From Literature to Abstraction,” and “What Dr. Adams and Dr. Hemingway May Tell Us About Ernest.” Hays and Hemingway scholar Larry Grimes completed work that had been started by their late friend and colleague Bickford Sylvester on Reading ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ published last year.

“I don't think I'll ever have another year such as that one,” Hays said.

According to his wife he won’t.

“She says I can’t write another book,” he said. “She wants to see more of me, get me out of the study and reduce my stress.”

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science